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A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Thursday - August 26, 2010

From: Bastrop, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Non-Natives
Title: Evergreen non-native herbs for Bastrop TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I'm looking for evergreen herbs for Bastrop Texas. I planted an herb garden in the spring of 2009, but mostly all of them died in the winter. Rosemary, Tarragon and Sage made it. thank you!

ANSWER:

We are assuming when you say "herb" you are referring to the culinary plants such as rosemary, tarragon, sage, lavender and so on. These are all native to the Meditteranean, and therefore fall out of the area of expertise of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. However, if you will promise not to snitch to the Native Plant Police, we will tell you that this member of the Mr. Smarty Plants Team has almost nothing else but herbs on a tiny 6' x 12' apartment porch in Austin. In the past, we had a true herb garden full of every herb we could find in Brenham, TX.

When we refer to "herbs" at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, we are talking about herbaceous blooming plants, generally speaking. Herbaceous means it is deciduous and dies  back to the ground in Winter, it may be annual, biennial or perennial. And we are always talking about plants native not only to North America but to the area in which the plants are being grown.

Even though they are out of our line of business, we can tell you from personal experience the herbs of the type you are referring to are pretty tricky in the South. Some are short-lived perennials, some may perennialize, but only last a few years, many are annual or biennials. Of those you mentioned, tarragon is best grown in pots where they can be protected from too much sun in the summer. Rosemary comes the closest to being dependably perennial, but will eventually begin to die out from the center, and takes the sudden drops of temperature we can have in Texas in the Fall and Winter very poorly. Our experience with sage (the culinary sage, not the many decorative salvias) was that it just melted down in Texas Summer. Lavender is still our favorite and we love to sprinkle it in the morning for the fragrance alone, but it, too, has a lot of difficulty dealing with Texas heat and humidity. We treat it as an annual, when it dies, we go buy another one and replace it. 

A couple of books we can recommend are Howard Garrett's Herbs for Texas and Southern Herb Gardening from Shearer Press, by Madelene Hill and Gwen Barclay, a somewhat tattered copy of which is still on my desk bookshelf. 

Remember, you didn't hear any of this from me. 

 

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